Quotation: Elena Ferrante: Storytelling as Power

There is one form of power that has fascinated me ever since I was a girl, even though it has been widely colonized by men: the power of storytelling. Telling stories really is a kind of power, and not an insignificant one. Stories give shape to experience, sometimes by accommodating traditional literary forms, sometimes by turning them upside down, sometimes by reorganizing them. Stories draw readers into their web, and engage them by putting them to work, body and soul, so that they can transform the black thread of writing into people, ideas, feelings, actions, cities, worlds, humanity, life. Storytelling, in other words, gives us the power to bring order to the chaos of the real under our own sign, and in this it isn’t very far from political power.

Elena Ferrante: A Power of Our Own

On Novels and Novelists

14 Women Writers Who Dominate The Universe Of Sci-Fi

For decades men dominated the world of science fiction. But, Maddie Crum reports, the tables have turned. Read why she things these women authors now dominate the field:

  • L. Timmel Duchamp
  • Emily St. John Mandel
  • Octavia Butler
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Nnedi Okorafor
  • Jo Walton
  • Hiromi Goto
  • Karen Joy Fowler
  • Tanith Lee
  • Alice Bradley Sheldon
  • Nalo Hopkinson
  • Karen Russell
  • Leonora Carrington
  • Sofia Samatar

Why you need an app to understand my novel

Iain Pears has always written complex books – his latest, Arcadia, has 10 separate story strands. To make his readers’ lives easier, he turned to interactive technology

Iain Pears laments, “What should be a simple task – write story, create software, publish – turns out to be anything but in practice.”

The author of An Instance of the Fingerpost, which my book club loved several years ago and which is on my list of books deserving a reread, explains that he undertook the project of both writing and producing an app for his latest work, Arcadia, because “I had reached the limit of my storytelling in book form and needed some new tools to get me to the next stage.”

His previous novels are all “complex structurally,” he explains, and since he wanted to write a book even more complex, he considered “how to make my readers’ lives as easy as possible by bypassing the limitations of the classic linear structure.”

In developing the software to aid readers, he writes, his main aim was “making the technology the servant of the story rather than its master.”

This is a fascinating look at how a writer attempts to use new technological tools as a way of expanding the possibilities of narrative. He compares his approach to the way the introduction of film influenced narrative: At first people simply set up cameras and recorded plays; only somewhat later did artists begin to explore the different possibilities that film offered to make a movie different from a stage performance.

Writing Arcadia did produce odd effects in ways that an ordinary book or ebook could not; scenes became more episodic and vignette-like; the demands of shifting from one point of view to another, and then to multiple ones in different worlds, required different ways of writing.

Arcadia will be published in Britain on September 3. A link at the end of this piece takes you to iTunes, where you can get the app.

Let authors take the quiet road

One question readers must always consider is how much they want to know about the author—or, more specifically, should what we know about an author influence how we react to or interpret a literary work?

This piece considers the case of Italian author Elena Ferrante, who eschews publicity so ferociously that most people don’t even know what she looks like.

Here writer Arifa Akbar wishes that more authors would follow Ferrante’s lead: “As Ferrante suggests, the book should surely be enough, though that is sadly not the reality for many pressured to deliver a performance after they have delivered their novel.”

11 Big Fat Debut Novels to Keep You Reading All Summer

Julianna Haubner writes:

While the classics have always had a reputation for intimidating length (Tolstoy, Dickens, I’m looking at you), we are now living in the era of an entirely new trend: the big, fat, juicy debut novel. Industry insiders (The Daily Beast and Vulture among them) have put in their two cents, but here’s ours: the bigger the better! Whether they’re fetching huge advances or sleeper successes, here are our favorite first-time tries that keep us reading past page five hundred.

These books are not all from the year. But read why she so enjoyed these authors’ big first novels:

  • The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  • We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, Elena Ferrante, Robert Louis Stevenson, classic mysteries, Hollywood authors

PD James: in quotes

A list of quotations about writing and mysteries from British mystery novelist P. D. James, who died recentlyat the age of 94.

Here’s my favorite from this list:

I love the idea of bringing order out of disorder, which is what the mystery is about. I like the way in which it affirms the sanity of human life and exorcises irrational guilts.

Ruth Rendell, novelist: “Fictional characters are never as complex as a real person”

An interview with another British mystery novelist, Ruth Rendell, who also publishes under the name Barbara Vine.

The interview is quite short. Here’s the part that gives the article its title:

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I don’t think there is a fictional character who resembles me because fictional characters are not real! We, people, are so very, very complicated that no matter how well drawn a fictional character is, they can’t get anywhere near as complex as a real person.

Elena Ferrante, Author of Naples Novels, Stays Mysterious

More on the elusive Italian novelist:

In her most extensive interview in years, Ms. Ferrante, who publishes under a pseudonym and has never revealed her identity, addressed her choice of anonymity — or “absence,” as she called it. In an interview conducted by email and through her publisher, she disputed the oft-circulated notion that she might be a man. “My identity, my sex, are found in my writing,” Ms. Ferrante wrote in Italian in response to written questions conveyed by her longtime Italian publisher, Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who said the writer had declined to grant an in-person interview.

My First Book: “Treasure Island”

What a treat! Narrative reprints an 1894 essay by Robert Louis Stevenson about his break-through novel, Treasure Island.

Classic mysteries every fan should read

To keep the mystery theme going, Charles Finch, author of the Charles Lenox mystery series, asks:

Why are we so captivated by mystery novels? Maybe it’s the puzzle, the chance to watch the detective chase clues and try to beat him to their meaning. Maybe it’s the chance to look at darkness from a safe distance – a darkness that might feel more real, ironically, than the ugly blare of Nancy Grace, because the best mystery novels are about how human beings actually act at the worst moments in each other’s lives, not about yelling sensational details.

See what five works he thinks are “the ones I think every single book lover should read.”

Hollywood’s 25 Most Powerful Authors

According to Hollywood Reporter:

These writers — ranked in order of influence — whose books are source material for more than 300 movie and TV projects, have helped rake in billions in box office and revenue, and prove every day that originality, above all else, still matters.

See who else is on the list besides the ones that seem obvious—J. K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Stephen King, Suzanne Collins.

On Novels and Novelists

Stephen King: The Rolling Stone Interview

According to interviewer Andy Greene, this interview in Rolling Stone is the first in-depth one Stephen King has given since a van accident nearly killed him 15 years ago.

Known as the master of horror, King has long wished to be known as “a writer,” not “a horror writer.” Greene asks King about the genre question early in their discussion:

I have to say this: To a degree, I have elevated the horror genre.

Few would argue with that.

It’s more respected now. I’ve spoken out my whole life against the idea of simply dismissing whole areas of fiction by saying it’s “genre” and therefore can’t be seen as literature. I’m not trying to be conceited or anything. Raymond Chandler elevated the detective genre. People who have done wonderful work really blur the line.

In this same vein, King speaks out against elitist “gray eminences in literary criticism” who, he says, don’t want to understand works that have popular appeal.

He also offers his views on life’s big issues, such as religion, God, heaven, the afterlife, and the future of humanity. And here’s what he has to say about evil: “Evil is inside us. The older I get, the less I think there’s some sort of outside devilish influence; it comes from people.”

King talks a bit here about the public reception of his books and how he feels about the movie adaptations of his novels. Here’s his answer to the question of which book he thinks is his best:

Lisey’s Story. That one felt like an important book to me because it was about marriage, and I’d never written about that. I wanted to talk about two things: One is the secret world that people build inside a marriage, and the other was that even in that intimate world, there’s still things that we don’t know about each other.

This is a long interview, and King touches on lots of other topics: politics, money, television shows, his writing process, and his drug and alcohol addiction.

And now I know why I hated The Tommyknockers so much: “The Tommyknockers  is an awful book,” says Stephen King.

Fuminori writes noir, but not as we know it

Fuminori Nakamura has won many of the major literary prizes in Japan and is quickly making the same kind of impact in the English-speaking world. His third novel to be translated into English, “Last Winter, We Parted,” is out now. It’s a tense, layered story centered around a young writer commissioned by his editor to write about photographer Yudai Kiharazaka, in prison for murdering two women.

According to this article in The Japan Times, Fuminori’s newly translated novel:

is full of stylistic flourishes and structural experimentation. There are textual games throughout the book, as it switches from archived letters to internal monologue to reported speech to notes from a diary and chains of tweets. It’s a book that keeps its secrets until the last page, playing games with the reader. Structurally it’s a Mobius strip.

His characters seldom have a backstory because, as the author explains, “My characters are often people who are adrift in the world.” He’s interested both in characters who separate themselves from the world and in what happens when those characters come together.

“I think of myself as writing pure literature,” he says. “I’m interested in the secret depths of humanity. I focus much more on describing the psychological state. I think that by writing from the side of human darkness, I might be able to write about those secret depths.”

This novel also explores the nature of creativity, art, and literature because “art does have a terrible side,” he says.

Elena Ferrante: the global literary sensation nobody knows

Elena Ferrante is an Italian novelist who was born in or near Naples. She seems once to have been married; she may have lived in Greece; she appears to be a mother. Or so we think. In our self-promoting, Twitter-saturated age, Ferrante is an outlier, an author who wishes to remain totally private. She refuses face-to-face interviews, has only given a handful of written ones (a few of her letters have been published), and makes no personal appearances; no photographs of her have been published. In 1991, shortly before the publication of her style-defining first book, Troubling Love, Ferrante sent a letter to her editor, explaining that she would not be promoting it: “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.” Anonymity, she thought, would preserve “a space of absolute creative freedom”, a freedom all the more necessary because her books stick “a finger in certain wounds I have that are still infected”.

Even though I don’t have to feel guilty about not having heard of this writer, I do begin to feel guilty about all the titles I must put on my ever-growing list of books-to-be-read.

The Neapolitan series, which is Ferrante’s most ambitious project to date, represents an evolution in her work. Three of the expected four novels have been published in English: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and, now, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Taken together, the novels span some 50 years, chronicling the life-long friendship between Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco. With them, Ferrante has written both a capacious story of Elena’s coming of age – Elena, who has become a novelist, is the narrator – and a social novel explicitly dealing with Italian politics and history where the earlier work confined itself to internal psychic dramas.